Google+ Raising a Trilingual Child: Q&A: Trilingual parent-to-be would like to raise a trilingual child and worries that her monolingual husband and his side of the family would be uncomfortable. What can be done to avoid a possible tension in the family? Could it affect the child's language learning?


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Q&A: Trilingual parent-to-be would like to raise a trilingual child and worries that her monolingual husband and his side of the family would be uncomfortable. What can be done to avoid a possible tension in the family? Could it affect the child's language learning?

Question from parents who want to raise trilingual child English Chinese and French

Question from a trilingual parent-to-be (English, Chinese, French), who would like to raise a trilingual child and  pass onto him both of her language Chinese and French. She is concerned about her  monolingual  husband (English) and relatives being surrounded by languages they don't understand and wonders, if this can have a negative effect on child's  language learning.

Note: This question was originally posted in a comment field on Multilingual Family Language Strategies page. My answer to it was too long (it happen again!) to fit as a single comment, so I decided to publish it as a separate post.

Hi Galina,

Your website is such a wealth of information. I am glad to find it.

I have a dilemma and I was wondering if you have any advice. I am trilingual (English, Chinese, French) and my husband is monolingual (English), and we live in an English speaking country. We do not have children yet but are planning for that now, and, being multilingual, of course it is important to me to do my best to raise multilingual children. My husband is supportive of the idea, but he has some concerns.

Since he is monolingual, he's afraid he will feel left out in our family dynamics. On the other hand, since we live in an English speaking country and our family language, at least between my husband and I, and my husband and our children, will also be English, I'm concerned about exposure to our minority languages.

Ideally I would do OPOL, starting with Chinese, and later introducing French on my own or through school. But I'm worried that my husband's discomfort will be palpable, and our children will not want to speak in the minority languages because they can sense their father's discomfort. I'm also worried a similar discomfort if I were to speak a minority language with my children around my husband's family, who are all monolingual.

I am proud of my languages and how trilingualism has given me so many benefits in my life, but I do not know how to address my husband and his family's natural discomfort at being around languages they don't understand.



Dear Betsy,

How wonderful that you are trilingual yourself and planning to raise your future child trilingual as well!

It is good that you started thinking about your family dynamics in relation to languages before your baby comes to this world.

Your concern is not without grounds and you would need to seat together with your husband again and thoroughly discuss everything.
How much is he willing to do for the children's trilingualism? Can he listen to you and your child speaking a language he does not understand and wait for a translation? Is he willing to learn one of your languages?

If your husband does not speak the language you will be speaking to your child, he most likely will feel left out. It will not happen right away, but slowly as your conversations become more complex and hence more difficult to translate for him all the time. The only solution to this problem I see is for your husband to start learning to speak one of your languages before your child will be born. I think French could be easer for him to learn, but that will require some changes in your plans.

Were you considering to speak both French and Chinese to your child ?
I would speak Chinese, when left with the baby alone, and French, when together with your husband and your child. You husband should be able to learn the language, if he is immersed in it. Start speaking French to him right away. Make labels around the house see also Multilingual Families: 8 Quick & Effective Ways to Learn Your Spouse’s Language, For the Busy Parent for great tips. Language learning will require some effort on your husbands side, but he will see the benefits of being bilingual very fast. Besides delaying the symptoms of Alzheimer disease (AD) , you both can go to Paris and your husband can order you a glass of wine then ;) Plus, knowing your and your child's language will give a bond and an extra connection to you both. If things go well you could even make French as a family language later on.

Also it's good to start evaluating your options of bilingual kindergartens and schools. Check, if there are any weekend schools or courses of French or Chinese for kids were you live / plan to live. Connect with other parents speaking French and Chinese. Depending on what language support you can find, you might want to consider focusing more on one or another language.

Your husband's relatives have to be prepared for the fact that you are planing to have a bilingual / trilingual baby. Small children adore their grandparents and take everything they say very close. It is best if you have their full support. You can not ask them to start studying your languages, but you could start educating them on the topic of bilingualism by sharing articles, suggesting books to read and simply talking about it. It is possible that the grandparents are not up to date on the recent research and look at bilingualism as a disadvantage, rather than an advantage. Please also read my suggestions regarding possible support partner's parents can provide in the answer I gave to a question from a parent, whose heritage language is different from community language.

Some thoughts regarding your possible discomfort while speaking to your trilingual child the language others do not understand. If order for a child to use a language, you need to provide opportunities and create a need to use that language. If he sees that you do not stick to speaking it, he won't do it either. For these reasons I believe it is crucial to keep speaking to your child the language no matter who is near by and how they feel about it. Explain to them why you do it and provide a translation. Read this article where I discuss the reasoning for it in details : What language should I speak to my child in public? - Multilingual parent dilemma.  

Let me know what you decide and if you heed more help. Good luck!

Are you bringing up a bilingual or multilingual child or are you a parent to be and have a question? 

Read other parents questions and my answers in Multilingual Family Q&A Series

Feel free to contact me.

For privacy protection I can change your name and omit some personal details, if you wish. 

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You might also like:

Q&A: Question from parents, whose heritage languages are different from community language. How to support the trilingual child's minority languages and keep them in balance.

Bilingualism and speech delay. How can you help? 

Exposing our kids to languages - Learn about our family language strategy and read great questions and answers in the article's comments. 

7 facts that can determine the language spoken between multilingual siblings.  

How to read to a baby? Advice for parents of monolingual, bilingual or multilingual children. 

Multilingual Family Interview: When your home languages are different from community language. Resources for Teaching Phonics and Reading to Children.

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